By Mike Farrell
Once again, it’s time for that “Summer Wind” to come blowin’ in from across the sea.
Monmouth Park kicks off the delayed Jersey Shore racing season on Friday evening. Opening day/night arrives about two months later than usual. That’s now par for the course as every sports operation battles the delays, cancellations and disruptions triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s a modest start, a six-race card beginning at 5 p.m. ET. The feature is the first edition of the $75,000 Oceanport Centennial Stakes for sprinters going 5 furlongs on the main track.
Not only is this a delayed meet but also a brief one, totaling only 37 programs. Friday cards will be twilight affairs. First post Saturday and Sunday is 12:50 p.m. for the three-day race week.
Fans are welcome, with several caveats. Everyone must submit to a temperature check, fill out a health questionnaire and wear a mask. Leave the beer cooler at home this year. No outside food or drink is permitted in the picnic area.
Admission and parking are free, except for the $1 million Haskell (G1) on July 18.
On the jockey front, Paco Lopez is back in search of a seventh Monmouth riding title. Many of the other names in the colony have a familiar ring: 13-time champion Joe Bravo, Nik Juarez and Jose C. Ferrer.
The newest face, and the most intriguing, among the jockeys is apprentice Ferrin Peterson, who gets a seven-pound weight allowance. Peterson is an interesting story on her own merits as a licensed veterinarian making a career shift to a one of the world’s most dangerous professions.
The additional kicker is that her agent is also changing jobs. Long-time Monmouth favorite Julie Krone, the top jock here from 1987-89, returns as Peterson’s agent.
It’s an interesting move for the Hall of Fame rider. The effervescent Krone was always an outstanding salesperson during her riding career, easily schmoozing trainers and owners. She can now employ those skills to build business for her protégé.
“Anyone who is changing their career path like this after going to medical school clearly has a passion that won’t go away,” said Krone. “The drive is there to succeed as a jockey. That’s what it takes. That’s what impressed me so much and drew me to her. She has a love for the sport that is infectious. She made me remember how much I love this.”
Loving the game and winning races can be too very different things. We’ll see how well Peterson succeeds starting with the Friday card where she is named on two mounts: Algorix in the second and Trapped In My Mind in the sixth.
On the training side, this meet will be most notable for who isn’t here: Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis, best known as the former conditioner of Maximum Security.
Back in March, Navarro and Servis were both ensnared in a federal probe of doped racehorses, were arrested and are barred pending their trials.
The two pretty much carved up the Monmouth meet in recent years. Navarro ran away with the title last year, posting 68 wins. Servis was second with 40.
Their horses were often short-priced favorites, a detriment in the eyes of many bettors who felt there was little value to be had in wagering on Monmouth.
Things should be more wide-open this year.
The initial feature drew eight runners for the 5-furlong dash.
Let’s give Chateau, a former Servis trainee, the nod in the Oceanport Centennial. Now in the barn of Rob Atras, Chateau was a sharp allowance winner in his most recent start at Aqueduct and finished second by a neck in his previous Monmouth effort.
Mike Farrell has worked in thoroughbred and harness racing for much of his career in journalism. Mike is a turf writer, harness writer, and handicapper, covering and analyzing races at dozens of racetracks around the country. Based on the East Coast, Mike has covered the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for a number of publications, including Daily Racing Form, as well as The Associated Press. He spends time at Gulfstream Park taking in the races, and also hits the harness racing circuit in the Northeast region. He’s been a fixture at The Hambletonian and the Haskell Invitational for longer than he’d like to remember.